You may have scene in the news this past week when Divinity professor Karen King, put forth a paper citing a 4th century fragment of papyrus she says is the only ancient text that quotes Jesus saying that he had a wife. The fragment, written in the language of early Egyptian Christians, shows Jesus referring to a woman named “Mary” as his wife and saying “She can be my disciple.” Of course, the four Gospels do not mention Jesus having a wife at all. If you read the DaVinci Code by Dan Brown (and let iterate here on that book: It is a novel- fiction- and should be enjoyed, not studied, as such) you probably have heard about the theories of Jesus being married to Mary Magdalene. The Bible doesn’t even hint at that.
So does this text prove Jesus was married? Hardly. It is a Coptic piece of papyrus which means it was found in Egypt. It was written 400 years after his death and resurrection. It is most likely part of what is called the gnostic Gospels. Gnostic or “Gnosis” means holding a secret knowledge about something. It is a movement the conical scriptures plainly teach as a heresy. These Christians believed they had attained a special knowledge that other Christians did not have. There writings, which in many places flatly contradict the Gospels, do not hold much water to the original scriptures when it comes to the facts.
For one, they were written hundreds of years after Jesus’ death. The scriptures we teach from were written by people that lived with Jesus. All the books themselves were written within approximately 90 years of Jesus’ birth. We have some fragments that date within 15 years of Jesus’ life. So in the historical critical study the gnostic gospels do not hold much water when it comes to facts.
The papyrus itself has come under great scrutiny as well. It has not been clearly vetted yet. In fact the International Congress on Coptic Studies in Rome, where the paper was originally presented, has some serious doubts about its authenticity, date and origin. They stated the fragments form and grammar raised many red flags. One scholar said it was a forgery. In fact, Havard Theological Review has backed off from publishing the article because the claims Ms. King made had not been thoroughly peer reviewed.
The media had a lot of fun with this story with little critical thinking behind their words. They just jumped on it and ran with it. I wish they would put in a little caution in their reporting when discussing such matters.